A Nobel Prize is one of the greatest honors anyone could be awarded. Between 1901 and 2009 the Nobel Prize Committee has awarded prizes in Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, Peace, and Economic Sciences.
Of these prizes, the Nobel Peace Prize is probably most prestigious and the list of Laureates includes some of the most significant names of twentieth century history. According to Alfred Nobel’s will, the Peace Prize is to be awarded to “the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.”
There’s no lack of controversy, however; Laureates have been imprisoned for their activism and the Nobel Prize for Peace has been awarded to those imprisoned at the time of the announcement or forbidden by their governments to accept the award.
Nelson Mandela received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 for his work against apartheid in South Africa, for which he had also spent 27 years in prison. Remarkably, he shared the prize with F. W. de Klerk, who spent his career in the government that imprisoned Mandela, but who ultimately released Mandela from Robben Island and ended apartheid under his Presidency.
Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma was under house arrest in 1991, when she was awarded the Prize. Her two sons accepted the award on her behalf and she remains under house arrest, despite brief respites, although there is talk of her being released later this year.
The 14th Dalai Lama was awarded the Peace Prize in 1989, over the objections of the Chinese government. thirty years after leaving his native Tibet to live in exile.
In 1939, Adolph Hitler barred three Germans, Adolf Butenandt, Leopold Ruzicka (Chemistry) and Gerhard Domagk (Physiology or Medicine) from accepting their prizes. They later received the Nobel Prize Diploma and Medal, but not the monetary prize.
This year one rumored candidate is Liu Xiaobo, a human rights advocate in China. In January, Václav Havel called for Liu to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in an article in The Guardian co-authored by Peace Laureates Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama, among others. The article stated:
Should the Nobel committee choose to recognize Liu’s courage and sacrifice in articulating these ideals, it would not only draw global attention to the injustice of Liu’s 11-year sentence. It would also help to amplify within China the universal and humanistic values for which Liu has spent so much of his life fighting.
More recently, China’s foreign ministry “warned” the Nobel Committee not to award the peace Prize to Liu, saying it would sour relations between China and Norway. According to The Guardian, “[Geir] Lundestad, who organises the meetings of the five-member Nobel committee, said China had given such warnings before, but that they had no influence on the committee’s work.”
Whether Mr. Liu receives the Nobel Peace Prize tomorrow or not, he has already scored several great achievements. Not least, of course, is his impressive work for human rights and calls for political reform in China. The support of Václav Havel, Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama is an honor in itself. But perhaps one of the greatest, if most paradoxical, honors is that the Chinese government considers him a serious enough candidate to “warn” the Nobel Committee not to make him the 2010 Nobel Laureate for Peace.